01/23/2004 12:00AM

Keeneland cancels July sale again

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Keeneland July sale, once the pinnacle of the select yearling sale season, has been canceled for the second year in a row. The Keeneland Association in Lexington announced Friday that it would again offer select yearlings only in September this season.

Keeneland sales director Geoffrey Russell said that "Keeneland and consignors agreed to meet annually to reconsider the possibility of returning the July sale to the schedule."

The news was not surprising to commercial breeders in the Bluegrass. At an invitation-only meeting in December, some of the July and September auctions' biggest sellers encouraged Keeneland to drop the July sale again this year. The auction was canceled in 2003 after Keeneland cited a horse shortage due to mare reproductive loss syndrome.

But the Keeneland July sale, which holds the world-record Thoroughbred yearling auction price of $13.1 million, for Seattle Dancer in 1985, has in recent years become secondary to the September sale. Many sellers prefer to nominate yearlings to the September auction because it allows their stock extra time to mature and offers a wider array of buyers. The September auction generally runs about two weeks; Keeneland's July sale, however, runs only two or three days.

"Those buyers and sellers that have supported the July sale in the past were almost unanimous in their desire to have all yearlings sold during one sale in September," Russell said.

Keeneland has scheduled the September auction for Sept. 13-25, and entries are due by May 3.

The Keeneland September sale enjoyed strong returns last year after cancellation of the July auction. The September sale grossed more than $274 million, its second highest total, from 2,969 yearlings sold. The sale-topper was a $3.8 million Gone West filly whom Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum bought from Three Chimneys, agent.

The only July yearling sale left in Kentucky is the one by the Fasig-Tipton Company, Keeneland's rival auction house. The Fasig-Tipton sale has also enjoyed a financial upswing, with its average and sale-topping prices rising steadily in the last decade. It had a slimmer catalog in 2003 due to MRLS and posted declines last year - the $28 million gross was down 11 percent, and average and median fell 5 and 4 percent, respectively.